I stumbled across a Christian "variety" program. In your television travels, you've probably run across shows of this type. The show's master of ceremonies is usually a televangelist, as it was in this case. I switched channels to his show at precisely the moment that the televangelist was beseeching his viewing audience to accept Christ. He was a nattily dressed in a perfectly tailored white suit, with what was arguably the most perfect haircut I had ever seen. At the bottom of the screen a call-in number was displayed imploring viewers to call and talk with one of the show’s “prayer counselors”. He alternated between looking soulfully heavenward and at the camera. He implored his audience to trust Jesus, accept Christ and to be washed in the blood of Jesus.
I’m not going to take any cheap shots. I won’t offer any comment on the merits of televangelism or the sincerity of the televangelist’s beliefs. There are all kinds of paths to God and I see no reason why television couldn’t be one of them. Televangelists have had more than their share of scandals. But until proven otherwise, I consider all of these folks as my brothers (or sisters) in Christianity.
As I watched him, it occurred to me that his audience probably had no clue of what he was talking about. This is because he was speaking in a code of sorts; a secret language that only people with the key could understand. I call it Christianspeak. Accepting Christ is a term that would likely make no sense to anyone but Christians. Washed in the blood of Christ sounds downright macabre. And how can anyone trust in Jesus when they’ve never met him (and especially when he died a couple of thousand years before they were even born)? I’m sure the televangelist knew what the terms meant. But I’m equally sure that his non-Christian audience wouldn’t have a clue of what most of it meant. And the exuberant televangelist probably had no clue that these folks didn’t have a clue.
He wasn't doing this on purpose. Every group has its own unique language. In most cases, the language acts as shorthand. It makes communications more efficient. Simple terms can be used to express complex ideas.
Buzzwords can improve communications efficiency but if we’re not careful, they can have the reverse effect. They can actually impede communications. Linguistic shorthand is often just confusing to outsiders. And over time, jargon becomes so tenuously related to the original concept that its meaning is lost.
Christianspeak is the shorthand terminology that Christians use to describe complex ideas. It’s used by preachers, lay people and everyone in between and may make sense to some, but may make no sense to others. Certainly, some people use buzzwords to obfuscate and confuse, but I don’t believe that most Christians engage in Christianspeak for that purpose. Instead, I think that they simply use it without realizing that non-Christians might not be following their meaning.
Well-meaning Christians use terms and concepts that simply don’t make sense to people who have never been through the Christian experience. Words and phrases like saved, Christ follower, faith, grace and many others are simple terms that describe vast and life-changing concepts. Christianspeak makes sense to those who have experienced the ideas it describes. However, it can also act as a barrier to those who haven’t. Any discussion on eternity is going to be pretty deep. Using a bunch of jargon to describe it doesn’t help to clarify. The basic ideas in Christianity- that God became a human, brought the dead back to life and walked on water, was crucified and then himself came back to life- are pretty fantastic. It’s hard to get our intellectual arms around these ideas. Christianspeak, without explanation, can simply add to the confusion.
The irony of Christianspeak is that most of us are exposed to it long before we can understand it. Christians use it because they think it will help non-Christians understand Christ. But in reality, it is a sort of an ex post, or “after the fact” language. Until you’ve been in a new car, it’s hard to appreciate the term “new car smell”. And until you’ve encountered Christ, it’s hard to understand much of Christian terminology. The only way to understand who Christ is, is to experience Him for yourself. You encounter Christ through the daily exercise of faith, diligent Bible study, and prayer. But unless you have been through the process, Christianspeak might as well be an ancient, dead language.
So the next time you find yourself using Christianspeak, ask yourself three questions: (1) "Do I understand, really understand, what it means?" (2) "Can I point to scripture to explain what it means?"; and (3) "Will the person I'm talking to understand what it means?" If you can honestly answer "yes" to all three questions, then Christianspeak away! Otherwise, consider holding off until you can.